Craig James was part of one of the most famous college backfield tandems in history.
James teamed with Eric Dickerson to form SMU's famed "Pony Express," and the two combined to rush for 2,575 yards and 27 touchdowns in 1981. So James appreciates the power of a two-back approach, but he believes three's a crowd.
"Very seldom do you even hear of a three-back tailback rotation," said James, a color analyst for ESPN.
"There's only so many running plays in a game, and with three it really makes it hard. I understand you have three guys that are talented and you want to have the ball. But sometimes when you go three, it equals zero."
South Carolina is trying to make the math work.
The Gamecocks have gone with a three-headed tailback during their current three-game winning streak.
The approach resulted in the best single-game rushing performance (287 yards vs. Florida Atlantic) in Steve Spurrier's four-plus seasons at USC, the biggest home win in school history (a 16-10 victory over No. 4 Mississippi) and a balanced performance against S.C. State that saw Kenny Miles, Jarvis Giles and Brian Maddox each average 6 yards a carry.
"I think each one brings something to the table," Gamecocks offensive line coach and run game coordinator Eric Wolford said "It's easy to see what they're good at. And they can all do it. It's just who has the hot hand, whoever gets the hot hand. Each one of them had some good runs the other night, so you wish you could get them all in there."
Maddox, who started the first three games, has the lowest yards-per-carry average (3.1) of the three backs. But the 5-foot-11, 224-pound junior is the best blocker and has a knack for finding the end zone (a team-high five touchdowns).
Giles, a freshman from Tampa, Fla., is the most elusive of the three. But his cutbacks sometimes get him in trouble when he retreats from the line of scrimmage and loses yards.
Miles, slated to make his second consecutive start today against Kentucky, seems to possess a mix of Maddox's power and Giles' speed. The redshirt freshman from Lawrenceville, Ga., has just one negative-yard play (for minus-1 yard) in 28 carries.
Miles pointed to "the other USC" - Southern Cal - as another team that uses a backfield by committee. Like the Gamecocks, Southern Cal has three backs with at least 28 carries.
But Joe McKnight, the Trojans' leading rusher, has 473 yards - more than twice what Giles has totaled (231) as the Gamecocks' top rusher.
"The most important thing is production. I don't know if anything is more important than that," USC first-year running backs coach Jay Graham said. "You look at, are we managing the game and doing the things correctly, more than just our yards in the run game. The pass protections, receiving out of the backfield - everything it takes to be a good running back in this conference."
USC is averaging 157 yards on the ground - an improvement of 63 yards from 2008, when the Gamecocks finished as the SEC's worst rushing team for the second year in a row. Their 4.5-yards-per-carry average is up significantly from their 2.9-yard average from last season.
But with three backs sharing time, are there enough carries to go around to keep everyone happy all season?
"Every guy wants to play every series and get every carry," said Graham, a former Tennessee tailback. "As much as can be, those guys have been great. They understand."
James, who has called three of USC's games this season, said splitting time and carries is not easy.
"You have to understand the situation and your role, first and foremost," James said. "From a game standpoint, you have to really, when you're on the sideline, stay involved mentally when it's not your series, and you have to run up and down and stay physically warmed up. You have to learn how to handle that."
Miles said he would like to have a 100-yard rushing game - "and many more 100-yard games."
And though Miles cannot control how the carries are divided, his objective is to make the most of those touches.
"If you're only getting 10 carries a game, or five carries a game, average as much as you can and do what you can to make sure the running game, and your time in (the game), was well spent."